Oscar-Nominated Short Film ‘Bestia’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

What works the most with animation is an obscure story that can only be told through the use of imagination. There is so much that works through the lens of stop-motion animation, or any form of animation. Specifically, in Bestia we find ourselves connected with the lead character Ingrid, which is a porcelain doll, as she is lost in her own thoughts while travelling. There’s a small hole in her temple that symbolizes so much as the story progresses. Ingrid is a secret police agent working during the Chilean military dictatorship. Director Hugo Covarrubias shows the duality of one’s imagination when trying to keep stories straight.

It is always difficult to know everyone’s secrets while maintaining some sort of sanity. Especially when it comes to going undercover. Ingrid battles with her own mind and her career as the lines between her reality and nightmares blur because of the situation she’s in. As she continues her duty as a secret police agent, there are these really dark moments that she has with her dog. Some of the images are very obscure, others really concerning, but it does show how she is slowly breaking down. It almost felt like she was spiralling. There were normal moments that she shared during the day with her dog, but then at night, those pure moments of repetitive daily life turned into night terrors.

In a way, Covarrubias showed how people lived during the dictatorship. How even though there are these difficult moments filled with sorrow, there can always be a silver lining to the day. Almost like a fresh start; a new beginning to each day. There can be a positive way to look at Bestia even through all the darkness, but it makes sense to turn the page and understand how broken Ingrid’s mind became because of her work. The stop-motion animation allowed Covarrubias to explore this story on a different emotional level. He chose to show how broken the system was in Chile, while also showing how it broke the people living there at the same time.

Bestia is a stop-motion animated short film that explores the Chilean dictatorship and how the people who lived through it felt. If you view the emotional connection to Ingrid in an abstract way, you can see the gravity of the situation. Ingrid’s mind was being shattered because of everything that was happening and her need for normalcy. It’s a different way to use stop-motion animation and there is always an appreciation for it because animation can visually show something more than live-action can. It’s more experimental and can leave certain imagery to be interpreted by the viewer. Even though some images can be unsettling, it’s a very interesting watch and it places the importance on mental health.

Oscar-Nominated Short Film ‘Ala Kachuu’ Review And Interview With Director Maria Brendle

By: Amanda Guarragi

There comes a time in every woman’s life that defines them. That one moment where they realize the woman they want to become is in reach if they just keep pushing forward. However, different cultures value marriage and are set within their conditioned gender roles. Sometimes the traditional notion of being a housewife and dedicating your life to your husband and children can also seem like a loss of agency. In Maria Brendle’s Ala Kachuu she explores the difference in generations and the conditioned ideal of womanhood. As generations of women explore and evolve, the meaning of motherhood and female individuality change to the dismay of the previous generation.

We meet Sezim (Alina Turdumamatova), who wants to fulfil her dream of studying in the Kyrgyz capital. She abruptly gets kidnapped by a group of young men and then she is forced to marry a stranger. If she refuses the marriage, she is threatened with social stigmatization and exclusion. This is actually a tradition in South Asian countries and not many people know about it,

“It was so important for me when I learned about bride kidnapping and I learned that only a few people in the world knew about this tradition. And it was so important for me to give the victims of the war a voice and create awareness of this topic.”

– Director Maria Brendle, Ala Kachuu

This is still stripping a woman’s right to choose. It’s a heartbreaking story and the way Brendle presented it on screen was difficult to watch at times. You can feel Sezim slowly slip into despair, as the only good thing she had was her education. Once she does get kidnapped, we see a very different side of her. She does not know how to process any of this and why it’s even happening in the first place.

What was so interesting to see is how the difference in generation forms two ideas about how a woman should conduct herself. The elders believe that a woman is destined for marriage and to bear children. Due to the fact that education wasn’t as accessible to them, their mind-set is completely different,

“I think it’s important that each girl and woman in the world should support each other. This is very important for all of us. I learned in Kyrgyzstan, there’s a lot of female tradition. So a mother can say no when the son is bringing in a girl for marriage by kidnapping. I think it’s important to cut this cycle. Women must stand together and fight for their rights.”

Director Maria Brendle, Ala Kachuu

When Sezim sees that her friend has moved out of their village and she is living by making her own decisions, she dives headfirst into her schooling. She believes that education can definitely pull her out of this traditional lifestyle. Instead of changing the narrative, Brendle sits in the brutal truth about the women struggling through these traditions. She shows how damaging it can be to their mental state and how hopeless the situation might feel. The one thing Brendle does show is Sezim’s resilience and strength to push through this horrible period for her.

Ala Kachuu brings awareness to a subject that isn’t really touched upon in Western culture. It’s important to bring these stories to the forefront in the most authentic way possible, so everyone can understand how women are still being treated in other cultures. Maria Brendle hopes that by using her voice and her platform, her film can raise awareness in order to protect and save these young girls. Brendle is overwhelmed and humbled by the reception. This story is important and hopefully this can unite women everywhere in order to change these traditions and fight for a woman’s right to choose.

Sundance Film Festival Short Film Program Reviews

By: Amanda Guarragi

These were the 11 short films that caught my eye when looking through the program. Some worked more than others, but more importantly, all of these short films told a powerful story. The short film program is always filled with diverse, emotional, unique stories that will resonate with many. Keep an eye out for these filmmakers as well, as they had a short time to fill the screen with beautiful imagery and make an impact.

Alone
dir. Garrett Bradley

Alone

Review: Alone is a harrowing short film about how the judicial system and mass incarceration break a family apart. The internal dialogue of a young, single mother, who is trying to go on living while her husband is in jail is heartbreaking. Garrett Bradley uses the space within the frame to show how alone she is. There is an emptiness surrounding her when she is just lying in bed. There are some great choices made to highlight voices and arguments instead of showing it on screen, which made it much more powerful.

Appendage
dir. Anna Zlokovic

Appendage
Courtesy of Neon Pig Media

Review: Rachel Sennott stars in this short film about a young fashion designer who must make the best of it when her anxiety and self-doubt physically manifest into something horrific. Director Anna Zlokovic made some great choices when showing anxiety and created an atmosphere that suited that feeling. It was such an interesting watch because of what her anxiety manifested into and what it meant metaphorically for her to cut away the degrading, intrusive thoughts. Really unique and I am excited to see what Zlokovic does next.

Chaperone
dir. Sam Max

Chaperone

Review: Director Sam Max creates a tension-filled evening when an unnamed man with sunglasses picks up a young man in his car. As the two drive together, and settle into a secluded rental house in the countryside, the details of their arrangements become very clear. This concept is a bit dark, but it was still interesting to watch the events unfold. I was surprised to see Zachary Quinto in this but he gave such a strong performance that I couldn’t keep my eyes off of him. There are so many questions and emotions that will run through you while watching this, as the ending is even more interesting than how they got to that point.

Chilly and Milly
dir. William David Caballero

Chilly and Milly

Review: This is the short film that really stuck with me the most. It connected with me on an emotional level because I have personally seen the effects of dialysis and what it does to an entire family. The use of old documentary footage combined with stop-motion animation to show the more emotional aspects of the story was beneficial. You got a sense of the family and who they were through the live-action aspects, only for the animated portions to create more of a visual connectivity to the illness. Really great work from William David Caballero.

Daddy’s Girl
dir. Lena Hudson

Daddy’s Girl

Review: I am a complete sucker for a father/daughter relationship, especially one that is fun, understanding, and loving. In Lena Hudson’s short, we see a young woman’s charming but overbearing father help her move out of her wealthy older boyfriend’s apartment. There are some small moments that build up into a pretty funny and cringe moment between the father and daughter, which hasn’t really been explored before on screen. Really enjoyed this one and how fun it was.

F^¢K ’€M R!GHT B@¢K
dir. Harris Doran

F^¢K ’€M R!GHT B@¢K
Courtesy of Mother Films

Review: Writer-director Harris Doran brought so much flare to this short about a queer Black aspiring Baltimore rapper who must outwit his vengeful day-job boss in order to avoid getting fired after accidentally eating an edible. There is a way to fight the system and explain how to be treated as a worker with factual evidence. We have all had that one boss who is just no fun at all and doesn’t understand how to conduct themselves in a professional matter. So this short touches upon what to do in that situation.

Hallelujah
dir. Victor Gabriel

Hallelujah
Courtesy of BLK MGC Content

Review: Writer-director Victor Gabriel has the best short film at the festival. We meet two brothers in Compton, California, who have to decide if they are willing to take on the responsibility of being guardians of their annoying, bookworm nephew. The script is very well-written and the way the story is structured makes an emotional impact at the end of the film. There are some effective choices made by Gabriel that keeps the emotional weight intact and does so in a tasteful manner to tell this tragic story.

Long Line of Ladies
dir. Rayka Zehtabchi and Shaandiin Tome

Long Line of Ladies
Courtesy of Junk Drawer

Review: Seeing generations of women being able to express themselves through their own traditions was beautiful to see. In this short film, we see a young girl and her community prepare for her Ihuk, the once dormant coming-of-age ceremony of the Karuk tribe of northern California. There are beautiful, natural shots in this film and a wonderful community bond. It was nice to learn something new and watch a young woman come into her own within her tribe.

Love Stories On the Move
dir. Carina Gabriela Dașoveanu

Love Stories on the Move
Courtesy of UNATC I.L.CARAGIALE BUCHAREST

Review: Writer-director Carina Gabriela Dașoveanu shows the daily life of Lili, a taxi driver, who is trying to save her marriage with Dani, an amateur fisherman. Her fares expose Lili to several love stories really different from her own. With each story that she heard, she would wonder where the romance or genuine love went within her relationship. She began to question why she was even staying. Hearing these stories affected Lili because she is missing something from her relationship that she is so desperately craving. The structure really worked, as the start of a new day, came a new story and then an interaction with her husband that changed her perception.

Maidenhood
dir. Xóchitl Enríquez Mendoza

Maidenhood
Courtesy of IMCINE

Review: How do we define virginity? More importantly, why have we been socially conditioned to think that virginity is something so sacred to a woman? In this short film, Catalina submits to the tradition of her people to demonstrate her purity and worth as a woman to her beloved, but her body betrays her and she fails to demonstrate her chastity.

Night Bus
dir. Joe Hsieh
Night Bus

Review: Writer-director Joe Hsieh really surprised me with this one. On a late-night bus, a panic scream shatters the night’s calm, a necklace is stolen, followed by a tragic and fatal road accident. The series of intriguing events that follow reveal love, hatred, and vengeance. The way the events unfold continues to shock you because of how well-paced this short film is. It does have a great story that instantly connects you to the characters. The animation is great and the use of the animals throughout the film gave you a sense that something wasn’t quite right. As the film went on, these characters got worse and it definitely became darker than expected.

‘The Van’ Short Film Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

The Van directed by Erenik Beqiri shows the resilience of a young man who needs to pay his wait out of Albania. He already works during the day with his father but it isn’t enough to survive. What we see is two different perceptions of how to survive. Ben (Phénix Brossard) finds side hustles in order to survive, whereas his father (Arben Bajraktaraj) believes in hard work. The generational divide is ultimately put to the test, when Ben joins a fighting ring, in order to earn some extra cash. The family drama highlights the lengths people will go to for their family.

The film is beautifully shot and the aspect ratio benefits the story, as we fully see the Ben’s physique in the frame. Each time Ben exits the van, his wounds get worse. The close ups are completely necessary in showing his pain and his emotions while processing his next move. The lighting choices were also effective because of the contrast of warmth and steely tones in certain scenes. The yellowish tones were used when Ben was safe at home with his father, whereas the steely blues were used near the van. The technical aspects of this film worked extremely well and made and elevated the story.

The Van de Erenik Beqiri (2019) - UniFrance
Courtesy of Anima Pictures

The Van is a short film that shows the journey of a father and son, trying to make their way out of a life that seems impossible to advance in. Ben is pushed to his limits and doesn’t quite know when, or even how, to stop these actions. Once he sees the money payoff, it is hard to leave the toxic environment. It is a brutal story of making a living and Ben does teach his father about how to function in this new era of society. The only way to survive is to cut corners, even if there are difficult tasks being handed to you.

‘Umama’ Short Film: Interview With Talia Smith And Malibongwe Mdwaba


By: Amanda Guarragi

Umama written and directed by Talia Smith shows the true story of a mother whose son has gone missing. It is a story of love, loss and acceptance. The morning after Sibongile made a promise to celebrate her son’s academic achievement, she wakes to find he is missing. Sibongile (Connie Chiume) still goes into work and she must care for the children, of her employer, in order to get home and keep her promise. Before heading to NYU, Smith was born and raised in South Africa. She wanted to highlight these stories in the most honest way. Smith had a personal connection to the story because of her childhood. She had a second mother, which is an Americanized way of labelling her as a ‘domestic worker’. Smith wanted to showcase her heritage through these special relationships.

What started out as a class assignment for Talia Smith had turned into a very important film exploring South African culture,

“This is a very common South African story, but on top of that, non-South Africans can relate to the universal theme but also start to see South Africans, not only their stories, but their talent. There are so many incredible stories so I hope that comes across to non-South Africans audiences.”

– Talia Smith, Umama

The beauty of this story is the connection between Sibongile and the children she cared for, even the dynamic between the mother (her employer) and Sibongile. There is a level of respect and love that can only be felt by those who have experienced connections such as theirs. It is essentially like choosing your own family and at the end of the day, they will support you through anything. That is the love that is shared in this film. Sibongile is having a difficult time with her teenage son Thabiso (Malibongwe Mdwaba). She feels detached from his life but Thabiso is trying to venture out and create his own path.

When watching Umama, we see both perspectives in a balanced way. The worried mother, who is trying her best to work and raise her son. And the teenager, who is trying to survive his high school years by making the right decisions. When asked about his own connection to Thabiso, Mdwaba said,

“To be taken back to that sort of timeline, gave me the time to see the bigger picture and heal from those moments. It really spoke to the kind of work that I love doing. That’s any work that has to do with mirroring society, in the most truthful manner and rarely do we get those stories, where we are literally not fabricating anything and we are just telling it as it is.”

– Malibongwe Mdwaba, Umama

We have all gone through our own hardships, in our teenage years and Mdwaba used this character to heal from his own experiences. There was so much thought, care and love that went into this story.

What Smith and Mdwaba hope audiences gain from this story is the connectivity of human relationships. It does not matter how you are connected to the other person, all that matters is the love and respect that is shared. Smith has had discussions with psychologists that deal with families in a lot of these situations and she is trying to create a toolkit,

“Once people have watched the film, if you relate to a character you will be able to kind of see how you fit into that category and figure out something that you may need, or how you can help other people in your life find resources.”

– Talia Smith, Umama

To see an extension of love and support in this way through filmmaking, just shows how genuine Smith is. Her stories will always be rooted in something honest and personal. It is a reflection of how she sees the world and how she wants people to perceive it through universal themes.